Gernot Wagner

Smith, Wake, and Gernot Wagner. “Stratospheric aerosol injection tactics and costs in the first 15 years of deployment.” Environmental Research Letters 13 (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
We review the capabilities and costs of various lofting methods intended to deliver sulfates into the lower stratosphere. We lay out a future solar geoengineering deployment scenario of halving the increase in anthropogenic radiative forcing beginning 15 years hence, by deploying material to altitudes as high as ~20 km. After surveying an exhaustive list of potential deployment techniques, we settle upon an aircraft-based delivery system. Unlike the one prior comprehensive study on the topic (McClellan et al 2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 034019), we conclude that no existing aircraft design—even with extensive modifications—can reasonably fulfill this mission. However, we also conclude that developing a new, purpose-built high-altitude tanker with substantial payload capabilities would neither be technologically difficult nor prohibitively expensive. We calculate early-year costs of ~$1500 ton−1 of material deployed, resulting in average costs of ~$2.25 billion yr−1 over the first 15 years of deployment. We further calculate the number of flights at ~4000 in year one, linearly increasing by ~4000 yr−1. We conclude by arguing that, while cheap, such an aircraft-based program would unlikely be a secret, given the need for thousands of flights annually by airliner-sized aircraft operating from an international array of bases.
2018 Nov 07

Solar Geoengineering Reading Group

12:00pm to 1:00pm


Room 429, Harvard University Center for the Environment, 26 Oxford St. Cambridge, MA

A weekly reading group, interspersed with more formal seminars, to deepen members’ understanding of solar geoengineering research. Lunch provided. RSVP to Lizzie Burns: eburns [at]

On November 7th, Gernot Wagner will be discussing his paper "Decentralized nonstate environmental intervention: the case of solar geoengineering" (joint with Jesse L. Reynolds).

Gernot Wagner — Moral Hazard

One of the major questions around solar geoengineering is often summarized under the term “moral hazard”: could mere mention of the topic, or research into it, crowd out mitigation efforts? Some surveys support this “crowding out” hypothesis, while others point to the opposite effect: talk of solar geoengineering acting as a wake-up call that crowds in mitigation efforts. We here take this question online and conduct large-scale experiments on a social media platform to elicit under which conditions which effect dominates. We compare people’s reactions to different presentations of climate... Read more about Gernot Wagner — Moral Hazard
Mahajan, Aseem, Dustin Tingley, and Gernot Wagner. “Fast, cheap, and imperfect? U.S. public opinion about solar geoengineering.” Environmental Politics (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering, which seeks to cool the planet by reflecting a small fraction of sunlight back into space, has drawn the attention of scientists and policymakers as climate change remains unabated. Unlike mitigation, solar geoengineering could quickly and cheaply lower global temperatures. It is also imperfect. Its environmental impacts remain unpredictable, and its low cost and immediate effects may result in “moral hazard,” potentially crowding out costly mitigation efforts. There is little understanding about how the public will respond to such tradeoffs. To address this, a 1,000-subject nationally representative poll focused on solar geoengineering was conducted as part of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) of the US electorate in October-November 2016. The importance that individuals place on solar geoengineering’s speed and cost predicts their support for it, but there is little to no relationship between their concerns about its shortcomings and support for its research and use. Acquiescence bias appears to be an important factor for attitudes around solar geoengineering and moral hazard.
Keith, David W., Gernot Wagner, and Claire L. Zabel. “Solar geoengineering reduces atmospheric carbon burden.” Nature Climate Change 7 (2017): 617–619. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering is no substitute for cutting emissions, but could nevertheless help reduce the atmospheric carbon burden. In the extreme, if solar geoengineering were used to hold radiative forcing constant under RCP8.5, the carbon burden may be reduced by ~100 GTC, equivalent to 12–26% of twenty-first-century emissions at a cost of under US$0.5 per tCO2.
Tingley, Dustin, and Gernot Wagner. “Solar geoengineering and the chemtrails conspiracy on social media.” Palgrave Communications 3, no. 12 (2017). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Discourse on social media of solar geoengineering has been rapidly increasing over the past decade, in line with increased attention by the scientific community and low but increasing awareness among the general public. The topic has also found increased attention online. But unlike scientific discourse, a majority of online discussion focuses on the so-called chemtrails conspiracy theory, the widely debunked idea that airplanes are spraying a toxic mix of chemicals through contrails, with supposed goals ranging from weather to mind control. This paper presents the results of a nationally representative 1000-subject poll part of the 36,000-subject 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), and an analysis of the universe of social media mentions of geoengineering. The former shows ~ 10% of Americans declaring the chemtrails conspiracy as “completely” and a further ~ 20–30% as “somewhat” true, with no apparent difference by party affiliation or strength of partisanship. Conspiratorial views have accounted for ~ 60% of geoengineering discourse on social media over the past decade. Of that, Twitter has accounted for >90%, compared to ~ 75% of total geoengineering mentions. Further affinity analysis reveals a broad online community of conspiracy. Anonymity of social media appears to help its spread, so does the general ease of spreading unverified or outright false information. Online behavior has important real-world reverberations, with implications for climate science communication and policy.